A BATTLE FOR THE AGES
Thrust into the turbulent times of the modern era in which we live, we often wonder why the Jewish nation is continually exposed to the barbaric persecutions of whichever nation or dictator happens to be in control of the land in which we are living.
Thrust into the turbulent times of the modern era in which we live, we often wonder why the Jewish nation is continually exposed to the barbaric persecutions of whichever nation or dictator happens to be in control of the land in which we are living. Even though nothing has been done in the way of provocation, it is inevitable that Jews living in any part of the world for a certain amount of time will be subject to an assortment of various forms of torment, whether it be torture as in Spain, death as in Germany, expulsion as in England, or limits imposed on the observance of Jewish laws and customs as in Ancient Rome.
This inexorable oppression occurs regardless of whether the Jews try to imitate their gentile neighbors, or choose to remain separate and live according to their own standards. History has proven, again and again, that other nations will stop at nothing - even ruining their own economies or having individuals kill themselves - in order to take down a few of the Jewish enemy with them. Presented with these inescapable facts, we must face up to the harsh reality that these persecutions were all ordained by Hashem and that there must be an unchangeable pattern of torments, instilled in the existence of the world, which will not be removed until the final redemption.
Although we cannot even conjecture as to the reason for this systematic persecution, we can search for the source. In this week's Torah portion it states, "The children fought within Rebecca" (Genesis 25:22). Rashi, the fundamental commentator on the Torah, quotes a Midrash that Jacob and Esau were fighting over "the inheritance of both this world and the World to Come." The Maharal of Prague, one of the seminal figures in Jewish thought, explains that this struggle was not Jacob's good side against Esau's bad side, for the good and evil inclinations are not present before birth. Rather, Jacob and Esau represent cosmic forces entwined in creation, each seeking dominance over the other. Like fire and water, they inherently cannot mix. Thus, we see that the everlasting war which wages between the Jewish people and the other nations began long ago with Jacob and Esau and will continue until the final redemption.
In the meantime, how is it possible for us to fight back, to take control and hold it from the beguiling enemy? The answer to this question is likewise found in this week's Torah portion. Towards the end of the portion we find the well-known story of Jacob attempting to trick Isaac into giving him the blessings in place of Esau. For all those who believe that Jacob and Rebecca put on their ploy truly hoping to pull the wool over Isaac's eyes (no pun intended) and that Isaac actually fell for it, I have a challenge for you. Try it. Take two people, one wearing goat-hair and trying to imitate the other, and see if a blindfolded person will confuse one for the other. It won't work. Clearly, there is a deeper message being sent here.
Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, rosh yeshiva (dean) of the Yeshiva Ner Israel, explains this remarkable passage based on the classic commentaries of the Malbim and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Isaac knew what the verse told us previously, that Esau was a "man of the field", while Jacob was a "wholesome man, abiding in tents" (ibid. 25:27). However, Isaac's error lay in his belief that Jacob would therefore be incapable of handling the Jewish people's future material needs of food, economy, and leadership. Instead he felt that from Jacob would come the spirituality of the Jewish people, while Esau would handle the nation's physical requirements. The two brothers would form a partnership. By sending Jacob, posing as Esau, to receive Esau's blessings, Rebecca was pointing out to Isaac that it must be only Jacob, and not Esau, whose descendants would govern every area of life for the Jewish people, lest the enemy attain any level of power with which it could exert pressure or force on the nation. Even a small opening could easily be converted into the first step towards ultimate domination.
This, then, is our job today. We must carefully examine those whom we choose as our leaders, be it of our community or our homeland, to be sure that they are willing to rule in accordance with what would truly be the good of our nation. It is only in this way that we may be able to stand for the time being in the face of our enemies and await the final redemption, when the wars and persecutions will finally end and we will see our enemies fall, never to stand again.
Joshua Gottlieb, a native Atlantan, is a junior at the Ner Israel High School in Baltimore.
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